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As a care leaver, I’ve felt neglected and unsupported during the Covid crisis

When lockdown began, nearly all my university classmates went back to live with their families. But I don’t have the emotional support or safety net of a family. I didn’t see anyone I knew for 13 weeks.

As an autistic care leaver, the hardest part of dealing with the Covid pandemic has been the neglect and lack of support I have experienced at my accommodation.

At the beginning of lockdown, I suddenly got very sick with coronavirus symptoms. Though I told staff at my accommodation and my local authority, nobody got in touch to see if I needed anything. I had to self-isolate and suddenly I wasn’t in control of basic things, such as getting food or topping up my electricity. During my illness, my electricity was cut off, I ran out of food and was forced to skip meals to make it through the week.

For many autistic people whom I’ve been in contact with during the pandemic, the increased stress has had a devastating effect on their condition and wellbeing. The overwhelming stress of my own situation caused me to shutdown mentally and emotionally, which put my safety at risk.

The most dangerous episode was when a fire started in my flat after I experienced a shutdown while cooking. I was taken to hospital for smoke inhalation, I informed my local authority and placement, but nobody asked how I was or what happened. I felt frightened, as though my life was disposable.

My experience as a care leaver living with a disability is far from unusual. Research by the charity Coram Voice found that nearly a quarter of care leavers report having a disability or long-term health problem and more than a third experience high anxiety. For me, these issues have been exacerbated during the pandemic.

In this unprecedented crisis, you would think the government would offer more help and support to vulnerable care experienced people but in April, emergency legislation was introduced to reduce the legal protections and safeguards for children in care and care leavers. The changes in the legislation are due to expire on 25 September but this sets a very dangerous precedent. Many across the sector, including the charity Article 39, fear this could be a testing ground for permanent relaxations of legal duties.

Research by Coram Voice last year found that nearly a quarter of care leavers reported feeling lonely most or all of the time. Having someone from my local authority ask how I was would have helped me feel less alone. I contacted every advocacy service, care leaver community and professional body I could think of for help. My local authority only began replying to my emails after I contacted the children’s commissioner and she requested to be copied in.

But there are lots of positive steps social workers and leaving care personal advisers can take to ensure the young people they work with are properly supported throughout this crisis and beyond. They include having a good understanding of our needs and circumstances, checking in regularly and making sure systems are in place for emergency financial and practical support. Some local authorities, such as North Tyneside and East Sussex, have done a great job of staying in touch with the young people they work with during the pandemic.

For young people in care and care leavers struggling to cope, it is important to tell someone who can help. I contacted Always Heard, the national advocacy helpline for children in and around the care system in England, which was able to offer me support.

The number of children in care has risen by 28% in the past decade, while funding for social services has been cut. Against this backdrop, many young people like me were already struggling to get the right support before the government further reduced the legal safeguards.

As the uncertainty of the pandemic continues, I still struggle with the effects of what happened and wonder whether I will be able to cope with returning to university. Care experienced young people, who have already suffered trauma early on in life, will need all the support they can get to stay in education and to cope with the next steps in the pandemic.

Read the original article at The Guardian

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